UFC 202: What’s at stake for Nate Diaz?

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Has Conor McGregor's mystique left the building before Nate Diaz rematch at UFC 202?
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At UFC 196 in March this year, Nate Diaz shocked the world by defeating Conor McGregor, snapping the Irish fighter’s 15-fight win streak, while simultaneously derailing the hype train that had been rapidly gathering speed ever since McGregor’s Octagon debut in 2013.

Despite being the more experienced fighter, Diaz was a heavy underdog going into the fight. Partly because he was a short-notice replacement for the injured Rafael dos Anjos, and partly because of the way McGregor had steamrolled his previous opponents – the Irishman had finished six of his seven UFC fights by knockout or TKO, including a 13-second demolition of José Aldo to take the featherweight title at UFC 194.

And as the fight began, it looked like the bookmakers would be proven right, with McGregor getting the better of the early exchanges, finding Diaz’s chin with straight left hands as well as skilfully sweeping Diaz to take top position after being taken down.

But as the fight wore on, McGregor began to tire, and his strikes carried progressively less pop. Diaz, renowned for his excellent cardio, took over in the second round; crisp punching combinations found a home on McGregor’s jaw.

By this point, McGregor was exhausted and hurt, and he shot for an ill-advised takedown. Diaz easily blocked McGregor’s attempt and got on top of his opponent. With the contest taken to the mat, Diaz was in his domain; the Brazilan jiu jitsu black belt rained strikes down on McGregor while constantly advancing his position.

As the Irish fighter rolled to escape mount, Diaz took his back and slipped in a rear-naked choke. McGregor tapped and the upset was complete.

In his post-fight interview with commentator Joe Rogan, Diaz insisted that he was not surprised by the outcome, but many were.

Diaz has been in and around the top 10 of the lightweight division for most of his career, and has even fought for the title. But with an overall record of 19 wins and 10 defeats, the Stockton-based fighter has had more than his share of in-ring disappointments, and his 2013 title shot against then-champion Benson Henderson ended in one-sided drubbing in favour of the belt holder.

After losing to Diaz, McGregor claimed his preparation had been less than perfect. He was originally scheduled to fight dos Anjos at 155lbs, but with that match-up scrapped and Diaz coming in on short notice, the two fighters agreed to forgo the usual gruelling weight cut and meet at the higher 170lbs welterweight limit. It was claimed McGregor was too big at this weight, and his gas tank was affected.

So when the two fighters meet again on Saturday night (20 August) at UFC 202, McGregor is confident that he will be better prepared, and will prove he is the superior fighter.

But Diaz has other ideas. The 31-year-old has spent most of his career in the shadow of his brother, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. When he submitted McGregor, Nate finally got the recognition (and pay) he feels he has always deserved, and he is not about to let all the go in the rematch.

Beating McGregor instantly made the younger Diaz brother, who has always been a popular figure among fans, one of the biggest attractions in the sport.

More than just fame and fortune, though, Diaz is fighting to affirm his legitimacy among MMA’s elite on Saturday. He wants to show that he deserves to be considered among the best fighters in the game, and that his name should be mentioned in title discussions a lot more often.

As far as Diaz is concerned, he set the record straight at UFC 196, and he is not about to let his new found status slip away any time soon.